Heroes come in different shapes and forms. Don Bradman became a national hero because of his feats on the cricket field. Ken Hansen’s achievements as a translator were hidden away from the public gaze in the remotest parts of Australia. I ask you, how many people have gone from coastal cities to central Australia and spent a lifetime raising their family among tribal Aboriginals? Not many is my guess.
Well, Ken and his wife Leslie went at the invitation of the Bindibi/Lorich people to learn their language and to give them their own written materials for the very first time. You’ll hear him explain their method of translation and answer questions about missionaries ‘interfering’ with culture.
I recorded Ken’s story in a noisy coffee shop at the Bradman Museum in Bowral. I hope you can persevere with the sound here in part 1 of the extended interview as I think it is a great story. After you’ve heard it, you can make up your own mind as to whether he qualifies as a genuine Aussie hero.
A mail truck driver who had regularly driven the 240 rugged miles from Bourke to Hungerford on the Queensland border recalled for me one his memorable trips in the 1930’s. ‘I loaded the two kids in the front and tied a rope across the open door to keep them from falling out. We got to Bourke at four in the morning and there were Mr and Mrs Drummond waiting for them on the railway platform to take them to Sydney for medical help and a holiday. Geez they were wonderful people! They were like Jesus Christ out here in the bush mate.’
Nancy Bird, Australia’s pioneer woman flier told me how she met Stanley Drummond in Dubbo as a 19-year-old on a barnstorming tour of NSW. ‘He was one of the first people who believed in me as a woman pilot,’ she said. She was soon based in Bourke flying nurses to remote outback villages for the determined minister’s Far West Children’s Scheme. This is the little-known story of a couple who I believe are authentic Australian heroes.
When David Jones arrived in the colony of NSW in 1835, it was still very much a frontier environment. The days when rum had been the currency were not that far behind and the labouring population of Sydney was reputed to be raw and irreligious. Governor Bourke had been wrestling to shift the settlement from dependence on a convict-based work force towards a capitalist economy and participatory democracy.
The colony offered opportunity to talented, but little-educated settlers to rise in the social scale and develop gifts that had remained hidden at home. David Jones proved to be one of these and he not only prospered but he also became a respected civic leader in Sydney. Sadly, the true source of the spirit of excellence he brought to the business life of the city has not only been forgotten it’s been abandoned.
The young Welshman had absorbed a strong ethic of honesty and hard work through living in Congregational church communities in Wales and London. He faced a tough challenge after crossing 14,000 km of ocean to set up shop in a hard-nosed business community that was aggressively expanding the colonial economy of the mid-1800’s. This is the story of how he and a unique community of Christian entrepreneurs, set about changing that culture and shaping Australia.
My son Chris grew up in Bourke and gained radio skills through community station 2WEB. His HSC video major work at Dubbo South High earned a place in Art Express, so it was natural that these talents became the basis for a career in television. Eventually, his feel for the bush and interest in communicating Aboriginal stories fitted well with his role as a producer for NITV.
I was delighted when he presented me with his painting of Aboriginal civil rights leader Bill Ferguson for my birthday. It’s such a great Australian story, but little known. When I showed it to our friend, Wiradjuri elder Riverbank Frank Doolan, he immediately identified with it because he had worked long and hard to have Bill’s role as a pioneer activist recognised in Dubbo and beyond. Here is Frank’s response to what he saw in the painting. WATCH as Frank explains why he was excited about Chris' painting.
Recording old-timers weathered by Outback summers in 1980’s Bourke taught me the value of a single life story. Two decades later, half a world away at a film studio in Vermont on the East coast of the USA, the historians who scripted the award-winning documentaries The Civil War and The West told me the same thing. Their secret was to tell the big story through carefully tracking the small stories. I learned that in a sense there are no ordinary people – each has a story unique to them. One day we might be surprised to find that a humble man like Frankie Faulkner had quietly played a part in a grand narrative.
Imagine coming to worship each week in a building where you knew every brick had been made by slave labour. Picture being the preacher in a church where the men who made the bricks were marched in under armed guard each Sunday to hear you speak of God’s love and forgiveness. That’s the challenge that faced Port Macquarie’s first two pastors Thomas Hassall and John Cross. WATCH as Paul unlocks some of the original story of St Thomas’ Anglican Church, built when Port Macquarie was a convict settlement.
Peter explains that towns were not built by governments but created by people coming together to pool resources. Community development is teasing out of people what they care about, using conversation and asset mapping as tools.
He’s convinced that Churches have played a significant role in generating social capital and therefore earned the right to speak in public conversations about the future. But they need to set aside differences and mobilise their accumulated resources. Peter speaks from fresh experience of getting the churches of Coonabarabran to do this.
I want you to meet a remarkable man. Peter Kenyon has probably done more to resurrect dying towns in Australia than anyone I know. His early years were spent in remote areas of Western Australia where he witnessed the exodus of young people to the cities and the shrinkage of Australia’s small Inland towns. He estimates seventy per cent are dying. Peter's passion is to act as a community builder, reigniting hope by getting locals to open their eyes to the human and physical resources they have on hand. READ and WATCH to hear more of Peter's story ...
The current urgency for vaccination prompted me to go find a story. I didn’t have to go far – several members of my family in the last century or so were impacted or died young from serious diseases. In my own lifetime a number of these diseases have been beaten and I realised in modern Australia we have lived safely under the umbrella provided by dedicated scientists. I found that the man who is credited with saving more lives than anyone else in history was a Christian with a big heart. WATCH as Paul shares the story that has changed all our lives.
I met evangelist Ron Williams when he travelled through Bourke years ago and he left an impression on me as being a man full of light and joy. When a friend asked me to explain the word ‘celebrate’, I thought of the story I’d been reading of Ron and Diana William’s wedding at Skull Creek in WA. It was the last place you would think of holding a celebration.
WATCH as Paul shares something of his story.
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.